Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Review of On The Seven Seas

IMG_1282.JPGOver the last couple of weeks I have played a couple of solo games pitting 2 bands of pirates against each other using the newly published rules; On the Seven Seas (OT7S) by Chris Peers (Osprey, 2014). I use these solo games to familiarise myself with the rule mechanisms before introducing the rules to other players in a club setting. Normally I would write a review only after a few ‘opposed’ games with various other players, but the poor impression I gained of these rules after the solo trial games means that they are unlikely to progress to a club game.

So, why did OT7S rules not work for me? I suppose the USP for the rules is the twin motivations for each faction; Fear and Greed. I think this is a nice approach to use for piratical rules. I’m not sure dicing (D10) for the initial values works, even allowing for re-rolls for low and high initial scores. In both solo games the factions ended up with disparate values which meant that one faction was much closer to routing (high Fear) and one faction always moved first (high Greed). In fact, the second game I played I ‘fudged’ the issue and gave both factions identical starting values (i.e. 6) for both motivations. Casualties can increase the Fear value, which can cause problems if it exceeds the Greed motivation value by 2 or more, and can lead to the rout of the faction if it reaches a value of 10. To off-set the motivation differential, the ‘Officers’ can influence their men and those of the opposition by dicing to reduce or raise the respective motivation values. It did start to seem a bit silly because every turn the Officers would dice to alter motivations, and it came down to the luck of the dice. Getting the Greed motivation close to 10 precluded Fear being an issue for a faction, unless of course it also reached 10, in which case you routed! Overall I think the sliding motivation mechanism is a nice idea and could work if developed a bit more. OT7S treats it in a too simplistic manner.

The greatest weaknesses of the rules are the over simplified shooting and combat rules, together with the strange scaling used. The author must play on very small gaming tables. Figures move 4” per turn, but muskets only have a range of 8” (pistols a range of only 2”). Factions need to be at very close quarters to engage each other. In one of my games musket armed figures could not hit enemy targets on the other side of the village square! Also, if you use a 6’x4’ table the factions take ages to get in to combat. All very odd, but I suppose this could be fixed by simply doubling the distances given in the rules. Muskets also appear to be rapid fire weapons with no reloading time, they just blast away each turn (strange). The hit procedure is simply throwing ‘0’ on a D10. Targets in cover, officers etc. get a saving throw, otherwise the target is KO’d. This is all too simplistic for my tastes. Hand-to-Hand combat is no better, just opposed D10 dice rolls (with very few modifiers); if score better by 2 or 3 then you force the opponent back, if better by 4 or more then you kill him!

Essentially what I have described above are all the core rules for land/boarding combat. They could have been written on the back of a fag packet rather than contained in a 64 page book! The author does try to add some colour by introducing a few additional characteristics for some figures in a faction, but these only add pastel shades at best. The rest of the booklet includes rules for ship to ship combat, which I have not played. They again appear very simple and suffer from the same scaling problem e.g. short range for cannons is 0-2”, and the damage inflicted seems entirely random (if your opponent throws ‘0’ on a D10 then your ship blows up!). There also rules for a basic campaign and a number of faction listings. Otherwise the rules booklet has a number of excellent pictures (all reproduced from other Osprey publications) and some photos of nicely painted pirate figures using North Star Military Figures.
To conclude, I don’t think OT7S are the pirate rules for me. They are far too simplistic, which is a shame because the dual motivation idea is a good one. Generally I like ‘simple’ rules, not dominated by multiple tables, factors and exceptional rules to cover all situations, but I think the author of OT7S has gone too far. After I had set my table up, got out my figures and played the game, I felt that I could have simply tossed a coin (Heads I win, Tails I lose) and saved myself a couple of hours to achieve the same result (with as much pleasure). I am slightly concerned that I have not played in an opposed game, so maybe my impressions of OT7S are incorrect. I would love to hear from any other gamers who have used these rules, especially if you have found them satisfactory or better. Until then I think they will be relegated to my stack of unused rules in the attic.

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